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An early look at Heroes of the Storm's alpha

Andrew Ross

Heroes of the Storm: Just another MOBA, right? Well, maybe. I have to admit two things before we jump into this article. First, I like MOBAs, but I'm an MMO player first and foremost. I keep trying MOBAs as they come out, and I've sunk some serious hours into the genre, so I do have a decent working knowledge of the bare basics, especially starting experiences.

Second, I'm neither a fan nor a hater of Blizzard. Blizzard often sticks to safe rather than unique features, but it also makes games for the masses, which is great because I love to drag my friends into my games. But a game that attracts everyone also attracts the kind of people I don't want to play with.

So why should I -- or you -- play Heroes of the Storm?

Let's start with the tutorial. It's decent, but veterans can skip it; features (like mounting) are intuitive without explanation. I did notice pathing issues such that clicking nearby sometimes resulted in my running in a very odd loop. New to me in my most recent tour of the game is that teams level up as a whole, not as individuals. There's no last hitting, even against players (that is, if you helped with a kill, it counts as part of your kill streak). Eliminating last hitting is much-needed to reduce toxicity throughout the genre. People always use levels to measure who is doing the best job, but sometimes amateurs spend most of the game just running multiple opponents off from the tower and calling for help while the one semi-aware player heckles them for being noobs.

Once you're in-game, you'll start to see how HotS is different from other MOBAs. First, there's no item shop in-game, just a real-cash or in-game currency shop for heroes/skins. Instead, there are "talents" you choose at certain levels within the match, and you unlock additional levels (for specific heroes) at the end of the match to open even more talent options. Player levels unlock content such as dailies and hero rotation slots.

I hate shopping during a match, so I like this change. Having so many different options per game makes it hard for me to keep track of everything, partially because I visit these games rather than live in them, so I don't have everything memorized. This, along with starting with most of your moves (except your ultimate), makes the game more interesting from the very start of the match.

Next, "Jungling" is almost gone. That is, there is a jungle, but you're not running around grabbing power ups, just killing mobs that will then run down the lane at your opponents. The tutorial revealed this by asking me to help "persuade" some "mercenaries" (as these units are called) to join my side. While some characters are supposedly better at this than others, the work felt rather quick and easy.

Each map has side missions or "quests." Most are similar: Go to an area and kill something or take it before the other players. If you've played certain modes in Prime World, for example, you'll have an idea of how important these missions are. Ignoring them is a really bad idea, and they're a nice break from the usual laning game you see when jungling is reduced too much.

Understandably, co-op mode, which is like PvE, appears less popular. My queue was about 3 minutes on a Friday evening; an hour later, PvP Versus mode had a wait of less than 2 minutes. Queue times have been about the same other times I've played. Matches tend to last about 40 minutes, which is shorter than most League of Legends matches, but maybe a bit too long for people I'd normally introduce to a new MOBA. Custom and ranked games aren't currently open for testing.

There's also a party system, so you can see what activities people want to do and how many people they have trying to do it. If you're grouped with someone on your friend list, you get 50% more experience at the least, so there is a bit more of a social experience for this MOBA.

And as I've come to expect, Blizzard knows how to dangle a carrot in HotS. Leveling up heroes unlocks new skins and color variants. The game has daily quests that often challenge the player to try different roles, like playing three games as a support class, but the toxic players in general chat can be a deterrent to experimentation. For example, I've been playing Uther, a support class, and get tons of harassment from people demanding heals (sound familiar MMO fans?). Maybe it's because it's a MOBA, but again, this is why I often avoid Blizzard games.

Overall, Heroes of the Storm is exactly what I'd expect from Blizzard. Gameplay mechanics that are normally challenging (like jungling) or time consuming (like item shopping) are simplified, streamlined, or removed. Instead, Blizz hones the barest essentials of the genre in a way that more casual players can appreciate it. If that's what you're looking for, Heroes of the Storm may turn you to the MOBA side.

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?

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